[Priest and Nuns]

David and Akkana's Southwestern Trip

Text by David North; Photos and comments by Akkana Peck.
Photos of us (not from the trip): David, David again, Akk with bike.

Day One: Free Bun Boy Munchies Eschewed

We packed up and got out a little after 1pm on Friday, early enough to beat the mass evacuation from the city that takes place each weekend. The first day consisted of basically getting the hell out of Dodge and California, though we went down to Bakersfield and hung a right through Tehachapi -- my first time taking that route (that I recall).

Interesting views of tall mountains with large sedimentary fans.

After that you're into Nevada and the Mohave, which is okay but no big deal. The big storm had just passed (a hurricane while off the coast) and the desert was still wet... and the cloud banks could be seen in the distance. We were fearful of getting caught in lousy weather for days, but this was not to be the case. In fact, in most places it was in the seventies and only now and then as high as the eighties.

After much dull driving, more interesting conversation, and attempts at making the desert look more amusing than it was, we stopped at Baker in the Bun Boy Motel. It's next to the Bun Boy restaurant, of which other examples are in Nevada (and, I think, Arizona as well). I cannot imagine why these are not bigger California, especially San Francisco and Laguna Beach in particular. They would absolutely have to be the rage ...

We had a coupon for free coffee from Bun Boy, but never got around to using it.

More's the pity.

Baker stayed warm well into the night, but it was no concern to the comfortably air-conditioned tourists in their room, save that Baker has the largest thermometer in Nevada, easily visible from the window.

It was the first of many bonuses to be confronted on the trip. [sedona2]

Day Two... Hoover Dam and Sedona

...started with breakfast some miles down the road at Jean, Nevada. The idea was to see if Casinos had good deals, and they do. So: Whiskey Pete's in Primm. Lotsa calories for very few pennies.

Hoover Dam: still there. Her first view of it.

Off to Flagstaff by early afternoon, down the road to Sedona via the two-lane.

Sedona: skip it. Amazing collection of camp/resorts all along the road, forcing the driver to crawl along for miles and miles to get near the town. We had the sense to pull off into a small state park and ask the Ranger where to ride a bike, and he told us to get out of the canyon, past the cheeseball tourist town, and south where all the good stuff was. He was right, and the irony is you can get there from the freeway in ten minutes, skipping the whole tiresome drive through town.

[sedona1] he riding was excellent; the end of the gorge really is cool, with some great chimneys and such, and we were able to get near them by climbing a small mountain, dropping into a valley, crossing and recrossing a stream and pedalling up an old creekbed to the base of the chimneys. The return trip involved a tremendous downhill run over a truly challenging series of dropoffs. Overall, fat tire heaven.

Sedona is cool if you skip Sedona (town itself is a boutique of fake southwestern culture. Not that the real culture ever existed, as far as I can tell).

Back in the truck, back to Flagstaff, find a hotel during Homecoming (shit!) and go up to Lowell Observatory to wait through an interminable (and incorrect) lecture to see the Big Refractor (lousy night, but a cool scope) while starving to death and freezing. Lowell is very nicely run (though certainly not by folks what knows the sky or scopes) and makes an excellent impression. It's also very surprising how dark the skies are just at the edge of such a large town.

Leave. Eat. Sleep.

Day Three: The Dog Days Begin

[Lake Powell] So the next day we get up and drive to Page, Arizona which is where the dam for Lake Powell sits. The folks in the town were friendly, and they had a bangup "round the town" trail to ride, but it turned out a tad sour as Akkana's migraine started acting up while we were on the trail.

She struggled valiantly, but couldn't finish the ride out, so we wandered through town and spent the evening eating dinner at a lousy buffet and resting. That night, we managed some binocular astronomy from behind the hotel; in the Southwest, the seeing sucks (nervous air) but the darkness is phenomonal. This means low mag stuff like binos and small telescopes give incredible views of coarse objects, so that was kind of fun and seemed to help the headache. But it was to dog us, on and off, for days, making sleep difficult and wearing her down.
Day Four: Big Business

Day four begins again in Page, Arizona. After a little research at a dumpy but friendly bike shop, we focus on a moderate sized area of slickrock to explore.

Slickrock is, in more normal parlance, sandstone. Though it may be slick to wood or steel wagon wheels when it's wet or something, to tennis shoes and bike tires, it's a nearly perfect surface that offers incredible traction. You can climb fairly steep slopes that otherwise might seem impossible, or ride along slants that you'd think you'd just sideslip down. Very much fun.

So, out of town until we find an old road which we follow a mile or so to the end, then along a washboard dirt road at fairly high speed to keep the ride as smooth as possible.

[Ruined Shack near Page] The idea was to minimize the strain on Ms. A, hoping the headache would lighten up. But it was hot out on the rock, and it turned out that Kayenta Sandstone (or Navajo -- Ak thinks the latter and she may well be right) is not the best surface for this kind of riding. It forms as part of a seabed over softer matter, typically calcium carbonate, and when the substrate is eroded, it falls in sheets and forms large cracked adjoining tables. Finding your way across the seams can be a real pain in the butt, involving much climbing and lifting of bicycles and such; alpine riding.

Akk: I think Page is Navajo sandstone while the Slickrock area near Moab is Kayenta. I enjoy riding both of them; David doesn't like riding the seamed kind like the stuff near Page.

The strain proved to be a bit much, though we made the main loop to a pretty neat chimney rock with caves, so we headed back on a road to some other caves for a bit of photography, then back to the truck.

By then we had decided to move along to the next stop, as it seemed Page was not all it was cracked up to be... the view was good, the trails okay, but there was a problem:

The Navajo Coal Power Plant. Apparently the largest of its sort in the world.

Though it had some interesting 30s architecture, it also put out a cloud of smoke that, by early afternoon, made LA look like a sunshine paradise. This does not add to one's holiday delectation, or the view. (Ak thinks I overstate this pollution. Perhaps).

Akk: well, it wasn't anything like LA or San Jose on a bad day, but certainly there was a dark layer of smog over the city. I took a few pictures, but it doesn't show up well in the scans I have online right now.

Besides, the heat had made the headache persist, and Akkana thought moving to a higher elevation might help somewhat. All things considered, time to go.

On the way out of town, we passed the Page Rush Hour, or Quitting TIme At The Power Plant. As we left, I read a little ad from the Plant in a local brochure, in which they claim to be spending two billion dollars on pollution control.

This made me curious:

1. How much worse was it before?

2. How rich is this huge coal plant, right next to one of the biggest hydroelectric dams in the world? (Irony alert).

This is a research project for the next month or so... Anyway, we drove from there to Cortez via the road by Monument Valley, which has a great collection of chimneys and such, visible from the highway. Dinner was good, Cortez was a friendly town, and things were looking up a bit.

But the headache, like the theme from Jaws, was a background leitmotif that would not go away...

Day Five: Durango

Up in the morning in Cortez, racing to the motel office as we just lost an hour crossing state lines and the free food is just about gone. Gas up, head out toward Durango.

As we approach the mountains, I muse that we might be seeing mustard patches on the slopes, there's so much yellow. But as we get closer, it becomes clear it's the aspens turning... that absurd ritual viewing Coloradans make so much of.

[Durango Aspen]

Nevertheless, it turns out to be worth looking at. Ak is frantic for photos.

Akk: We hit the timing just right here: the aspens were just turning the day we drove into Durango. Half a week later and we would have missed most of the show.

A short drive brings us to the destination du jour: the fabled Durango, home of every successful mountain bike racer in the world just about.

It turns out to be what we used to refer to colloquially as a "tourist trap" complete with boutique main street etc., but the food is okay, and local bike shops give us the lowdown on where to go to ride... turns out to be something on the order of a 20+ mile ride up a mountain from about 6K feet to about 8200 feet. This sounds just about right.

Akkana does the navigating and we get to the trail head, load up, and we're off. She's still not feeling quite up to snuff, but not bad, so we go for it.

The trail is strewn with rocks, has odd slips toward a stream, dropoffs, and just about every "technical" challenge you could ask for. Up up up. We keep going, waiting for the shoe to drop from the altitude, but it never really does. We both held up okay, and the air was like a tonic for Akkana; she felt just fine once we got going.

Akk: I love high elevation. I always feel healthier over 6000', and it definitely made my headache go away.

The view was nice, but overall the ride reminded me (and her?) way too much of the Santa Cruz mountains (though better in some ways) and seemed just too familiar to be really worth it.

Akk: Not quite Santa Cruz Mountains, but still, mountain scenery, while pretty, was a little too close to what we see at home. I'm a desert rat at heart, and I was hungry for some red rock.

So we came back down, which seemed to take forever over this somewhat challenging trail, and near the end some damn bug flew right into my eye and lodged there, messing with my vision for about an hour.

We packed it in and headed back to town, feeling pretty good, and through a weird series of negotiations ended up with a two-floor suite in a posh downtown hotel for $50, which was tres cool, though I had to cram a towel in the air vent to keep the air conditioner going.

So off we go to dinner, which turns out to be a typical touristy semi-ripoff, but at least it wasn't Spanish food.

On the way back to the room, Akkana noticed the Red Dirt Shirt Company, which makes shirts died with, you guessed it, red dirt from the mountains. She thought this idiotic, and I agreed... the only difference is, I'm convinced the guy will make millions off the Sheep Of America (and my thinking that is almost certainly the Kiss Of Death to his plans). We have joked about this on and off ever since.

Akk: I still haven't seen anyone in the bay area selling Red Dirt Shirts ...

A. decided to retire early to consolidate her gains, so I went down to repark the truck and watch the local drunks piss on the train tracks, and consider the typical tourist trap ambience of teenagers (and older teenagers) burning rubber on the downtown roads to amuse themselves. All these towns are the same everywhere.

Eventually, the curtain comes down on a most interesting day, but it's clear that Durango is not the place to be. [Mesa Verde Window]

Day Six: Mesa Verde

Morning in Durango dawned to a resurgent headache... so we decided to make an easy day of it, and wander by Mesa Verde on the way to Moab. This would be road touring, sitting, and looking only.

Turned out to be a good decision. The drive into the park gives spectacular views of the Colorado/New Mexico Rockies, and a huge valley.
[Cliff Dwellings 2]

Mesa Verde itself is a collection of cliff pueblos, probably the largest, inhabited by the socalled Anasazi, which is more or less a Navajo word for "Ancient Ones." Remember that the next time you see "ancient Anasazi."

The gig is, you drive from site to site and look at the ruins, which are spectacular. Mostly we used binos, as the tours are ponderous and have to be booked sight unseen. But it was more than enough to see everything, and you can get pretty darn close to some. Other ruins you can simply walk through, though they are not on cliffs.
[Tower House]

The game is to speculate on why they suddenly decided to build all these magnificent cliff pueblos, then almost as suddenly (and after only about 75 years) abandon the whole place. Weather? War? Silly religious stuff? Unknown. Lots of interesting ideas circulated.

There's no point in trying to describe them; go to the library and take a look. Great stuff. Or better yet, twist Ak's arm to show you her photos, which are magnificent.

Akk: ah, gee, shucks.

After that, we headed to Cortez for dinner (Akkana had the sense to get an Anasazi Taco, which was great... although they are Navajo Tacos in Moab, where we were headed).

The drive took us 40 miles or so over Highway 666, which we managed without incident. Near Moab, we saw the first arch of the trip, right next to the road. She knew where to stop (Moab is a biker Mecca) so we lit it up with headlights.

Akk: Wilson Arch, a few miles south of Moab.

Tres cool.

And we arrived in Moab. [moab scenery]

Moab Part One

We book a hotel (the last nonsmoking room, as I recall) and head to a nearby bar that Ak remembers as having great garlic bread. Bad break: it has turned into a loud pickup spot, and her head can't stand it. So we go to a nearby supermarket and get a book on the local geography (and chaining) and some bagels and cream cheese. This turns out to be a regular delectation that I've been missing out on, and just another of the minor advantages of knowing Akkana.

The full list is, of course, too long to enumerate. And that's without getting into the major advantages.

We go back to the room, tank up, and Ak collapses. I go down to the lobby to read a while, then collapse myself.

[Petroglyphs near Moab] The next morning, we wander around by truck for a while and look at some Indian wall art; this is interesting, as is the view, but by and large we're here to ride bikes. Though it is hot, there are a few clouds, and Akkana gamely decides to head on up to the Slickrock Trail, not to be missed when one is in Moab.

Part Two: Slickrock

First you pay your three bucks, then you drive to the parking lot. Before you: a vista of Navajo/Kayenta/Whatever Sandstone as far as you can see -- frozen sand dunes in whorls, lumps, humps, seams. Every imaginable shape, built as a bicycle playground.
Akkana: I think it's Kayenta sandstone here.

There is the obligatory note to avoid running over cryptobiotic soil (shit grows in it, but beats us how).

Be nice to the environment.

So we make sure we've loaded up with lotsa gatorade, and off we go on about a ten mile loop of windsprints, as it turns out. Short, nasty climbs followed by wild downhills, punctuated by an amusing sideways traverse here and there. It's a bit warm, but not overly, as the clouds hide the sun much of the time. Earlier, it looked like it might threaten a little rain, but it was lighter and later, after the storms would normally have developed if they were going to do their thang.

Akk: I really stressed bringing lots of liquid, as I'd been here before on hotter days and had trouble running out. It gets very hot and dry, and there's no way to bail out and no other sources of water. Since it was warm, we debated whether to bring our windbreakers, but since they were light and since all the books always tell you to be prepared for desert weather to change rapidly, we decided we might as well bring them. We would be very grateful for that decision ...

We finished up the practice loop in good form, having seen a few sights and got our slickrock legs, learning how well the traction works and what you can get away with on this surface.

Imagine a desert, fixed in time, with not a tree to be seen anywhere... just the odd bush here and there, growing in the cracks. The light was perfect, the scenery awesome. It was a magnificent day. Akkana's headache was a minor problem, but in such an ideal setting, she fought through it to make the whole thing work out. Amazing woman (repeat often).

Further out, the going gets more adventurous. We move nearer the edge of the rock. The climbs get steeper, harder, more technical. The views into canyons get more impressive, and the further we go the better it gets. Eventually, we make it to the main loop, far out on the edge of the mesa. We decide to take the path "retrograde," opposite the direction she went on her last visit. This might make it seem new.

Akk: We went clockwise, which actually is the same direction I'd ridden the last time I was there. The paint at the beginning of the main loop says this is the harder direction, but most riders I've talked to who have done both disagree with that. The paint notes were put there by dirt bikers, so I suspect the difficulty assessment refers to difficulty on a motorized dirt bike, not on a mountain bike.

After a while, we're running along the edge at the top of a ridge, and a few wind gusts come up. It gets humid, and more clouds start to form. The water in the air makes it a bit harder for me to breathe, and for the first time in the trip I start to feel the altitude...

But we come to another ridge, and the wind picks up more. We're near a cutoff for a view, and stop to consider whether to spend the time, or if my breathing was not up to it... we decide to go a little way out. The wind picks up a little more... it gets hard to keep the bike upright on the top of the ridge, and the climbing is difficult. We debate a little further; Akkana really seems to want to go see the view, but I'm having second thoughts. It's getting harder to stay on the bike, anyway, so I put mine down and walk a little way to see how it looks up ahead.

We commisserate on the top of a ridge. It looks like a long way, and I'm uncertain the view will get much better. Plus, clouds are forming.

Suddenly, a long way off, a bolt of lightning.

We decide maybe it would be best to stay on the main route rather than go further.

The wind comes up a little more, and I suggest it might be best to get down off the ridge. We're not certain where we are on the route, so we continue onward.

Akkana asks if I think the weather is going to turn really bad. I say, no, I don't think so. It's late for something big to get started, and it's still a long way off.

Yet the wind keeps rising...


After we got down off the ridge a bit, a few raindrops fell. Showing something approaching discretion, we pulled out the map of the Slickrock trail (secreted in my camelback) to review the situation. It appeared at that point we were as far as you could get on the loop, so we decided to continue... might as well see the whole thing.

But the wind kept rising.

And, as we moved along, with increasing urgency, more rain began to fall. Ahead, we could see the some folks plugging away, and they seemed to be picking up the pace a bit.


So on we go. A bit more rain, a bit more wind with every minute. Finally, we finish the traverse, and ahead we see the next problem: this trail too ascends a ridge.

Without any reason (yet) to hesitate, we start climbing...

But once we're out of the wind shadow, we really start to figure out what's going on. The wind continues to rise, and this simply doesn't seem possible, or at least like anything I'd seen before. The howling was to the point that communication was single words, and the rain started to fall in earnest.

After only a minute of climbing, it became obvious we could no longer ride on this ridge, so we got off (without exchanging a word; as if it were synchronized biking).

The wind kept rising.

The lightning got closer.

The rain *really* started to fall.

As we slogged up the ridge, I started leaning on my bike to counterbalance the wind, and as we crossed toward the crest I felt the tires start to give... and looking ahead, I saw Akkana's wheels come off the rock as the bike literally started to kite away in the wind... she dug in her heels and held on...

Akk: I was holding on to the handlebars, flying the rest of the bike like a kite and trying my best not to fly away with it.

Seeing the bike take off like that was enough for me; I think we'd been trying to fool ourselves into thinking this wasn't that big a deal, but apparently it was. Akkana managed to bring it back down and hold position, but clearly even walking was getting a little too strange.

Just down the rise there was a little depression of a few feet with a bush of some sort clinging to a crack, so I dragged my bike down to it and she joined me. Amidst the howling and rain, we managed to get some basic ideas across like "holy shit" and "think I'll put on my windbreaker." It was still fairly warm, in spite of the rain, but getting wet in that wind was starting to take the heat away. Akkana decided to follow suit.

We discussed the chances the bikes might have to be left out here, but of course decided to try to keep them with us, as it might be possible to ride later.

Akk: You can have my Cannondale when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. :-)
After apprising the situation, we noted that the wind would come in gust patterns, and it should be possible to get off this ridge between gusts.

Which, with some timing, we did.

Fortunately, the "slick rock" also has exceptional traction with tennis shoes, or the shit would have been deeper than it was. We managed to get over the hump and down into a dip, where there was a little less wind for a few minutes... we crossed the dip and made it to the foot of...

... the next rise.

Where we stopped again for a moment, as the wind had come back up again, the rain started in earnest, and the lightning got under the critical "three-second" barrier, meaning "you might be next." Climbing under these circumstances caused us both some concern.

So Akkana decided to leave the trail and see if it was possible to go around this mound rather than over it. What I did was disagree that wandering off the trail in a storm was a good idea. But she was adamant, so we wandered about fifty yards, after which it became apparent that it wouldn't work -- the side route led to a cliff.

We discussed the dangers of wandering around in strange places where you can get lost, vs her major concern at this point, which was the lightning (later research indicates she was more right to worry than I thought at the time). It was getting real close.

Real close.

This "discussion," though, is taking place in a wind tunnel full of water, so it seems more like, oh, people yelling at each other in a hurricane. Very dramatic. The upshot was, I figured it was not a good idea to stay out beyond dark, as the continued storm might make it impossible to see at all. We did not have a flashlight and hadn't figured on needing one. Ak was not troubled by this as much as I.

Her concern was that the lightning could get us when we're up on a ridge, if the wind didn't.

My counterpoint was that the lightning may not be an issue with rubber shoes and tires, and that we could try to guess when the wind would be at minima, but staying out in a cold desert/mountain night in the rain with no cover could be fatal. She thought the ambient light would be adequate regardless.

The problem was, we both agreed all these things were dangerous and simply weren't sure which was more dangerous. We are still unsure; my brother (Golden CO) tells me the folks who live "up top" say animals and people get hit fairly often in those conditions, that the wind can blow you off cliffs, and that getting caught out overnight can kill you.

In other words, we were definitely between the devil and the deep blue sea.

So, we went up over the top, because I simply started up (stupid or resolute? What's the difference). She nerved up and came along. Maybe we had no choice since the storm showed no signs of leaving any time soon (she was clearly concerned, though she never flinched)... and we almost got blown off, and got some great views of lightning up close, and it got *really* loud:

:::at which point for some inexplicable reason I decided to flip off the cloud and scream at it, I was just so pissed about the whole thing and seriously considering we would get killed or whatever, and frankly I just wasn't in the mood to die just then with things being so, um, basically nice, so this sudden impromptu and silly exhibition:::

...and got back down on the other side, wet as shipwrecked rats, but the wind was a little easier and it was only raining... which seemed like a luxury beyond imagining.

We could just walk for maybe, oh, 300 yards. And hear each other. And breath. I was starting to run seriously short on air from the altitude, exertion, and humidity.

So, here we are traversing this shallow depression and we look off to the west and a hole in the clouds is lighting up a sandstone ridge maybe 20 miles away, a glowing el dorado on the horizon... amazing. I look over at Akkana and she's grinning like a gibbon: she says:

"My headache's gone."

It would not come back.

So off we went, hope in our hearts, thinking the rain was slowing maybe a little, to see if we could find the turn in the trail, at Shrimp Rock.

Shrimp Rock

The rain was slacking, the wind a little less...

In fact, the storm more or less passed. The sky was still dark with clouds, but in the distance over Arches National Park a hole opened, lighting the peaks and crags there into a distant city of spires and monoliths. Remarkable. Akkana got out her camera (which I was carrying) and shot a picture (that didn't really come out).

Akk: eventually I'll scan it anyway. You can see the golden spires against the darkness of the rest of the desert, but unfortunately the little point-and-shoot camera's lens just wasn't fast enough for the light level. Next time I get caught in a life-threatening desert storm, I'll try to remember to bring an SLR. :-)

We were off the ledge, and the wind was just a breeze again. No real problems save that the increased humidity was still making it hard to breathe.

It seemed prudent to make time, so we got back on the bikes and found that even when wet the slickrock was an amazingly sticky surface... there was no sliding around. After only five minutes or so, we sighted Shrimp Rock in the distance, and things were looking up...

But as we neared the rock, looking up turned out to be a bit of a bummer. A few drops of rain fell again, and then it became obvious that what seemed to be the passing of the storm was just a short lull... and the clouds that were coming looked as bad as anything we'd seen.

This, I said at the time, is not funny.

Shrimp Rock is, of course, a high point on the trail. By the time we got to the first ascent, the storm was blowing seriously again. And by the time we got to the ridge near Shrimp Rock (which looks like a mushroom, but there are "just add water" shrimp in a pool that forms near it after a rain. By now water was forming small rivers all over the mountaintop, but as we were way high, the one thing we didn't have to worry about was flash floods) the wind, rain and lightning were worse than before.

Still, now we knew the drill, and there was no hesitation (even to look at the pool). Up we went, feet braced against the rock, using the bike as a "wind brake" held almost horizontally, sometimes leaning as much as 30 degrees from horizontal, held up by the bluster. Near the crest, we were forced sideways and had to "tack" just to move forward. And at the top, we could vaguely see that we were once again up high, and that it would not stop soon.

Nearby, lightning struck.

The next half hour, or five minutes, or two years, is all the same. I have no sense of the time at all, just one ridge after another, broken up by shallow depressions that offered no respite. We could not ride, we could barely walk at all, but nevertheless went up one rock after another, sometimes remarkably steep climbs.

The most surprising moment in this part was coming to one descent that stymied Akkana, who was showing more fortitude than I, but it appeared my shoes were holding a little better than hers. She simply could not trust her soles down one ledge, so I dropped my bike to the rock and climbed back up, took her bike, and carried it back down. She was able to make the descent without the extra weight... and soon took the lead as I was starting to become so stupid I couldn't figure out the trail any more.

She was able to effectively find shortcuts, however. But when she'd turn off the trail, it would freak me out until I figured the plan (she was right ever time).

But finally after some incredibly long eon, we came to the top of a ridge and the trail met itself from the other direction... and we knew that after running a few more ridges we would be off the top and back into more sheltered area, not up where the wind and lightning were ripping away.

I started to suspect we might make it back before too late...

We continued down the rocks and through a ravine we remembered, then we were off the ledge. The rain started to ease up, and became just a drizzle. The lightning moved on.

It became a grind, and my breathing was getting worse. Up 'til then, the altitude really hadn't been a problem, but the humidity and low pressure combined to burn me down a bit. Akkana was holding up better, and took the lead, finding some shorter trails. The climbing wasn't too bad, but we still had a sense of urgency: the rain had slacked off once before, and we didn't know if it would start up again. So it was "make hay while the sun thought about shining."

As we moved further and further from the edge, we came to some climbs we remembered, and they were tough. After one, I simply had to stop for a while, and the people behind us finally caught up (one of whom was a skinny girl of tender years who didn't look like she could walk half a mile, much less cheerfully chug along through this stuff. And cheerful she was...) We had stayed pretty close together for most of the rest of the ride, and we were within a mile of done, but I was running out of gas.

Another steep climb, and we both remembered that as being the last big one, so we picked up the pace a little, and whoooooops, we came to The Monster Climb From Hell.

You could see from the bottom it was the worst one yet... and there weren't supposed to be any more until the end (my bad memory at work).

This was really not funny. It was, personally, kind of heartbreaking. I just didn't think I had the stuff left to go up it, and the rain was starting to pick up a little bit again...

So I sucked it up and started climbing. Found my fourth wind, so to speak, and the surprising thing is I was able to make the entire climb steadily without even breathing hard (going anaerobic?) or slowing Akkana down at all, as far as I could tell (perhaps she was just being nice).

And when we got to the top, we could see we were at the base of the final ascent to the exit from Slickrock. In other words, it was a done deal.

We rode until we got to the last steep part, only about 100 yards of climbing and we're done, and Akkana says: "We're pretty much there, if you need to rest we can spare a minute."

And I felt fine. I started to say "Oddly enough, I feel fine..." but what came out was "Oddly enough..." and I fell down.

Flat out, finished, done.

I started laughing. The whole thing was just ridiculous, but it was done... there was no way we couldn't finish, and her saying that made the underbrain realize it, and the switch went off. So we sat there in the rain, cold, hugging and grinning like idiots for a short while, then got on our bikes and rode up to the top and coasted to the truck.

As we were loading, the rain started again in earnest. By the time I was driving down off the mountain, it was hard to see the road... the rain was dense and it was getting dark, dark, dark...

...and this time, it wouldn't stop until after 4am in the morning, something of a record deluge apparently. When we woke up the next morning, the mountains had a solid dusting of snow.

It had been that close.

Anyway, that night we went to a barbecue restaurant and ordered the biggest thing on the menu and ate *all* of it before we were really sure we had started eating. Then we got some more food, went back to the room, and crashed.

A thoroughly amazing day. We still argue about how dangerous it really was; I called my brother (who spends a lot of time "up top") and he said it sounded like it would scare the crap out of him too.

So, I guess, it was serious. But once it's over and you get back, it's really just kinda funny. [Moab Rim]

Moab Rim

Moab Rim stuff needs to be inserted here ...

Nevada: The Extraterrestrial Highway

Anyway, the next day we get up and start burning out of Utah, taking a few wrong turns and all that (no real lost time) and end up on the Extraterrestrial Highway. This amazing ride begins with a run through a wild horse area, but no horses to be seen.

Next you come to a huge Joshua Tree forest that, as far as I know, isn't marked or noted in any of the usual guids.

After that, Area 51. There are plenty of signs to let you know, and the state (we're in Nevada now) has even marked it as the Extraterrestrial Highway, complete with drawing of a Close Encounters type ET. Some dookie little town near Area 51 is trying valiantly to become a tourist trap, but it looks like it was shit at and hit.

Akk: the town consists of a gas station plus a greasy spoon called the "Little Ale'Inn". Ha, ha.

Sooo... but the next thing is irresistible: Lunar Crater. Sheesh. Check this out on a map sometime; it looks enormous.

Thing is, you can't see it from the road (or anywhere near) so we shined it on. I'm very curious, though...

Uphill from that, we stopped to piss on Nevada, and that is perfectly appropriate, all things considered.

From there, off to Bishop, and nothing need be said about that. Ugly town with no redeeming value. [monotufa2]

Akk: But the morning after Bishop, we stopped at Mono Lake, which was lovely and turned out to be the most photogenic spot of the whole trip. Then we took Tioga Pass through Yosemite. I'd never been over Tioga Pass before, but it was disappointing.

All in all, a disappointing day near the end of the trip. Still, we were in a good mood and managed to sort of enjoy the whole thing somehow.